There I am, head down and giving 'er! (Photo credit: Jeremy Allen)
The 2014 Ontario Provincial Road Race Championships took place on the Niagara Escarpment in Lincoln Ontario. Because the race was atop the escarpment, it ended up being a relatively flat course with only ~100m of elevation change over the 12km circuit and only a single real 10m kicker and false flat on Cherry Ave. directly after the third corner. The approach into this corner had an equal downhill ahead of the turn and naturally this corner acted as a great springboard for attacks since it also had the benefit of facing a crosswind once you turned south. Conversely, the smoother sections along Spring Creek Rd. and the tailwind-laden Camsden Rd were the safe times to take down any nutrition/hydrate and watching others do the same is was always a nice reminder to invest in keeping the energy levels high for late in the race. On the last lap, the finishing line was ~250m west of Camsden Rd. along Spring Creek Rd.
Since this was my first Provincial Championships race, I ambitiously decided to race in the Master A category in order to get more experience before racing in the Elite field. Importantly, I didn’t have a chance to organize a feed volunteer with enough time and so a ~160km flat-out race was an intimidating prospect. Generously, with these factors in mind, the OCA provided me with a last minute exemption on my license to allow me to race with the Master As. Although the race distance was shortened by 3 laps (~122km total), this was still an extremely strong and experienced field to race against and so I was becoming increasingly nervous as the race staging grew closer. Thankfully, I was able to warmup with Isaac Smith from our Elite Men team who is an extremely experienced racer and solid dude all around. Isaac kept me in good spirits leading up to the start by telling great stories and generally being upbeat. With about 10 minutes before the start, we made our way to the staging area. The Elite men were allowed to start first at 1:45pm, followed by the 85 racer strong Master B field 2 minutes later and finally our more slight 37 member field rolled out at ~1:50pm.
The neutral start ended soon after we made our way onto the tailwind section on Camsden Rd. A single rider from Nacsworld Norco decided to wake the field up by jumping off the front for a bit but he was pulled back by the 2nd turn on Moyer Rd. Interestingly, throughout the entire crosswind section (south and west facing roads), the pavement was heavily rutted and full of little potholes that would eventually cause a lot of palm numbness and sit bone bruising later in the race. In an attempt to avoid these obstacles and remain sheltered by the pack, you would either have to endure some serious hardship in the worst portions of pavement and risk losing your water bottles or get yelled at by the race officials for gently straddling the yellow line on an under populated road. Either way, it was very taxing and challenging, frustrating, and probably unsafe for everyone in the field. Where does the OCA find these roads?! Despite this, I was super impressed with how safely our group navigated the course and didn’t feel threatened by my fellow racers at any point.
Being the lone To Wheels Epic Sports Performance BCC team member in the field, my strategy leading into this race was to try to sneak away in early breakaway moves in the hopes that cat and mouse tactics in the field would help a well-organized small group to get away slowly and steadily. On the first few laps, I tried to join and aid several attacks with the likes of James Keezer of Midweek, Jeff Sykes of Morning Glory, Mark Van Doormaal of LapDogs, Marten Mann of Type1Cycling/London Honda, and a couple other parties I cannot recall. Every single one of these early moves, even if in response to a previous attack, were rapidly shut down by the various teams present but especially by Nacsworld Norco. As a result, the few moves able to gain any real gap were pulled back into the fold at a maximum of 20s off the front. The assurance that I was picking the wrong times to go became the most evident to me when after one of my fruitless attacks, the entire peloton sat on my wheel as I slowed everyone down to a (literally) painful 25km/h along the bumpy Tintern Rd. section. Finally after some subtle swerving over and around potholes and overt elbow waving, I coerced the reluctant group to come through. From that point, I became more reserved and thought I would wait until others tired a bit more before trying to join another move or to simply save myself for a bunch sprint. I said to myself as I repeatedly do in and before a race: "Really, I would stand a chance in a bunch sprint?! Pshaw, Flimshaw!" Truth be told, I didn’t mind the chance to “recover” for a bit in the pack!
With 5 laps to go, James Keezer followed by Dan Doddy of Blacksmith Cycle launched a brilliant attack on the tricky uphill section directly after the tough third corner. I completely missed the opportunity to join this move while fighting up the kicker mid-pack. Since I missed my chance to get in this move, I decided to leave it up to the rest of the peloton to pull the breakaway. With some confusion over who should be working to bring back the break, Keezer and Doddy’s gap grew to over 70s with less than 2.5 laps remaining. Many people from Nacsworld, Morning Glory, Wheels of Bloor, and others reluctantly put some digs in but there wasn’t enough real organization to pull back the break. Being alone in the field, I convinced myself I wasn’t in any position to be working and feared attacking in case I woke up the tigers again. This was likely a tactical mistake as there seemed to be enough dilly dallying to find a spot to attack and get away. Props to some of the other solo riders from other teams in the same boat as me (i.e. riders like Ben McNabb from Collingwood) that did some strong pulls on the front to try to pull back the break. I generally sat at the back of the peloton and contemplated my dwindling options.
Here are Keezer and Doddy working hard together to keep the gap off the front. (Photo credit: Jeremy Allen)
With 2 laps to go, the gap came down to 30s and unfortunately the field, thinking the job was finished when it was far from, sat up after being informed by the commissaries. I believe also that many people were really feeling the effects of the brutal course and were probably too sore and tired to imagine doing any real work on the front. I certainly felt haggard by the day’s pummeling and opted to wheel suck to my heart’s content. As a result, the gap went back out to a minute and remained there. By 1 lap to go, we were clearly racing for 3rd place. Sadly, with 1.5 laps to go, I had lost my last water bottle on one of the Tintern potholes. Luckily, the riders behind me were able to navigate around it without going down since bottles were being ejected from cages regularly along Bethesda and Tintern and so everyone was always on guard and communicative about tumbling obstacles. Since we had a few light rain showers in the middle of the race, I didn’t really need the water anyway because I managed to remain cool enough to retain fluids.
On the last lap, I began moving up the chasing field in the last 4km and situated myself in around 10th position on Spring Creek Rd. As we approached Camsden Rd., the pace started to pick up rapidly and a false sprint was initiated as we crossed Camsden Rd. Everyone slowed down and asked where the finish line was and if the race was over. I stupidly rolled through and found myself in first position as we rolled past Camsden Rd…. the worst possible place to be right before a sprint no matter how fresh your legs are feeling. In hindsight, I should have attacked at this point with everything I had since there was quite a bit of confusion in the field as to where the race finish actually was, but I doubted myself thinking "Don't go early". Once again, everyone sat on me as I slowly rocked my bike back and forth while simultaneously increasing my cadence in a bigger and bigger gear to sprint in. It was either Jason Valenti of B1 Cipollini or Justin Rogers from Nacsworld, both known fast finishers, that initiated the bunch sprint with Valenti taking 3rd and Rogers 4th. I latched onto Marc Hunt from Tall Tree Cycles and made a feeble attempt to come around him at the line to take 5th. Marc was convinced I had edged him out at the line but the race officials gave him 5th. Props to him for hanging in there long enough to secure his position! At that point, I looked around for Keezer to see if he had taken gold.... and he had! If you want to meet someone who knows how to pick the right moves and stick to his guns, look no further than James Keezer. After congratulating Keezer on his impressive victory, I quickly road over to Isaac's car, grabbed a bottle, and sprinted over to the feed zone in the hopes that I could provide him with a feed for the last couple of laps of his race. About 5 minutes later, super elite Ryan Roth blew by alone off the front in full TT mode and at a significant pace (likely ~50km/h). The Elite chase group, consisting of ~10 riders, came by over a minute later at what appeared to be a lot slower a pace (by a lot slower, I still mean 45+km/h). I waited for 15 more minutes with still no Isaac, so I headed back to the finish line to see if he had finished his race. Unfortunately, he had completely popped 130km into the race and had been dropped from the group chasing Roth. Frustrating to have read the race so well yet not having the legs to stay in there simply due to lack of free time. With the knowledge that Isaac had just wrote and passed his bar exams and had a new born at home really drove it home how dedicated real cyclists are to their craft. The Elite Provincial RR was his longest ride of the year and yet he still found himself in the break at 130km into his race - absolutely inspiring!
Importantly, I want to extend a big thanks to Isaac who accommodated me at the last second by driving me down to the event. Thanks to our club member Andrea Arbuthnot for coming down in support and to check out the race. It was great to have you out there cheering on the group, Andrea! Also, thanks to the generous and talented Jeremy Allen at Wet Pixels for providing me with high quality photos for this blog!
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